“I love these members that get up and say, ‘Read the bill’! Well, what good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you’ve read the bill?” – Representative John Conyers, D-MI
Did a veteran member of Congress say there is no need to read a bill which is being debated and on which he will be voting? Did he say he would not be obligated to understand “what it means”? Oh yes, he really did!
Rep. Conyers made the above remarks during a speech at the National Press Club this week and seemed quite smug and self-satisfied after making them. We watched the video of this quote, and after lifting our collective jaws off the floor, an “ONYDST” researcher said, “I bet very few congressmen ever read those bills. I give Conyers some credit for stating the truth, even though it was stupid for him to say publicly.” That may be a valid point, but for the average American, the idea that a member of Congress would not read a bill before voting on it seems absolutely outrageous. However, Rep. Conyers is not the only member of the House leadership who feels that reading and understanding all of a complicated piece of legislation is necessary.
During hearings for the “cap-and-trade” bill, an exchange occurred between Representatives Joe Barton, R-TX and Henry Waxman, D-CA. Rep. Barton was raising an issue about a particular item in the bill. He asked Rep. Waxman, “Did you know that was in this bill?” Waxman hesitated and then replied, “You asking me?” Barton confirmed that he was asking the committee chairman a question. Waxman then stated, “I certainly don’t claim to know everything that’s in this bill. I know that we left it to … the scientists … That’s what I know, but I don’t know the details.” This bill was huge (at the time of this hearing, about 900 pages), so it might be understandable that a member of Congress might not fully understand all of the details prior to the completion of committee hearings – except for the fact that it was this member’s legislation (cosponsored with Ed Markey, D-MA – Waxman wrote the bill but didn’t read it?). As in the case of Rep. Conyers, it was not just the words he said, but how he said them – in a dismissive, condescending tone of voice. He was clearly annoyed that someone would expect him to actually understand the details of his legislation.
Would you think that the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives would expect all members, or at least his caucus, to read bills in their entirety prior to voting on them? Well, if you thought “yes”, you thought wrong. Earlier this month, Representative Steny Hoyer, D-MD, leader of the House Democrats, said, in relation to the health care bill, “If every member pledged to not vote for it if they hadn’t read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes.” In fact, Rep. Hoyer apparently found the whole idea of members completely reading the bills on which they vote to be humorous and absurd. “I’m laughing because I don’t know how long this bill is going to be, but it’s going to be a very long bill,” he said, driving home the point that if a bill is too long, why read it?
So, maybe we’re all a bunch of rubes/yokels/hayseeds and don’t understand how important and busy is the life of a member of Congress. Maybe with briefings from staff members and others who did read such bills, members will be casting educated, well-thought-out votes. However, you would think that such experienced politicians would have the decency to at least pretend that they have done their due diligience and personally read each piece of legislation.
Currently, a group named “Let Freedom Ring” has distributed a pledge to all members of the Senate and House of Representatives that reads, in part, “I will not vote to enact any healthcare reform package that … I have not read, personally, in its entirety …” The pledge currently has 101 signers – out of 535 total Senators and members of Congress. So it’s not exactly catching on fire yet. Also, apparently not everybody in the House Democrat leadership has a political tin ear, as a 5-hour work session was organized for about 180 members of the Democratic caucus, in which staffers went through the bill, section by section. An attendee noted, “No one’s going to say we haven’t read the bill.”
We do not want to debate the merits of any bills today, but just suggest that there is nothing unreasonable about constituents expecting their legislators to read completely and understand fully the bills on which they are voting. So to those Senators and members of Congress that have demonstrated by their words and deeds that they will do so, we say, “Nice work!” However, circling back to John Conyers’ dismissive remarks and contempt for those who expect him to perform his job competently, we say:
“Oh no you didn’t say that!”